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Magda and Alexander King outside their new home in Collingwood, Ont.Tannis Toohey/The Globe and Mail

An Ontario engineering company is giving staff $20,000 to help them buy their first home, showing the lengths to which at least one employer is going to attract and retain talent.

C.F. Crozier & Associates Inc. started providing the incentive as the pandemic’s housing boom sent home prices soaring and shut more Canadians, including its employees, out of the housing market.

The country’s average selling price of a home is nearly 40 per cent higher than this time last year, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association, with prices escalating faster in smaller cities like Collingwood, which is home to Crozier’s headquarters. The sharp rise in prices has eroded affordability across most of the country and made it harder for home buyers to save for a down payment.

Crozier president Nick Mocan said he was constantly hearing that employees were anxious about their housing. “It is sad to see our employees go through such tough circumstances,” he said.

“We identified a need. The biggest barrier is coming up with the down payment to buy a house. Their rents are so high, they can’t catch up and build money for a down payment,” said the 42-year old Mr. Mocan, who received help from his parents to buy his first home years ago.

At a time when the economy is reopening and businesses are short-staffed after a tumultuous year of closings, Crozier’s incentive stands out.

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Michael Williams, a veteran executive recruiter with Odgers Berndtson in Ottawa, said the labour market is so hot that employers are offering greater incentives to attract employees. He cited, as examples, flexible hours, working from home, working from anywhere and more vacation. But Mr. Williams has not seen employers offering down-payment help.

In this market, even workers with high-paying jobs are not able to save enough for a down payment. In Toronto, where the price of a typical home crossed the $1-million mark, a home buyer needs to have a minimum 20 per cent or $200,000 for a down payment, plus additional funds to close and move.

Crozier, which develops commercial and residential real estate land, introduced its program late last year and changed the lives of some of its employees. The $20,000 gift is available to all staff from engineers to administrative assistants and accountants. The only requirement is that the employee remain at the company for a minimum of three years after receiving the funds. (Crozier also has offices in Milton, Bradford and downtown Toronto.)

Employees describe the gift as winning the lottery. Magda King, the receptionist for Crozier’s Collingwood office, had been looking for a home in the area with her husband for more than a year. The couple had lost out on nine homes when she found out about Crozier’s program.

“I remember experiencing so many different emotions hearing about this incentive. I even remember crying at one point because I was just so overwhelmed with emotion,” said Ms. King, who has been with the company for more than two years.

The $20,000 helped the couple make higher offers and buy a three-bedroom condo townhouse in Collingwood. Ms. King, 28, said the funds “allowed us to breathe a little and not feel like we are digging ourselves into a hole.”

For 30-year-old Ian Blechta, an engineer in training who has worked at Crozier for nearly two years, the company gift allowed him to qualify for a mortgage and gave him stability. Mr. Blechta and his girlfriend were not able to get a mortgage from a bank because they did not have the 20 per cent down payment required for a preconstruction house. Crozier’s funding allowed him to provide deposits to the developer for his $500,000 three-bedroom property and he was able to qualify for a mortgage.

“I don’t think it would have been possible for us to hold the house without the help from the company,” he said. “It made a big difference for us.”

For Rebecca Alexander, an engineer who was renting a basement apartment in Collingwood, the gift allowed her to buy her first house after her landlords said they needed the basement apartment for a family member. Ms. Alexander, who has worked for the company for seven years, was looking in the $400,000-to-$500,000 range and said the funding allowed her to increase her purchasing power.

Crozier deposits the $20,000 directly into an employee’s registered retirement savings plan, where it sits for 90 days before the employee can withdraw the funds without tax penalties under Ottawa’s program for first-time home buyers.

The company has about 40 job openings. Mr. Mocan said he hopes the incentive helps bring in talent and likened the Crozier gift to help from mom and dad. “I would encourage other moms and dads to let them know about our company,” he said.

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